Like thousands of other young girls our great grandmother spent all her teenage years in service. The few pennies she earned each week went to her mother for housekeeping and her only three days off each year were; Christmas Day, Easter Sunday and Mothering Sunday. With this arduous start in life our great grandmother collected and horded tips, recipes and remedies, notions and potions that could make her two most valuable commodities after her family; time and money, go further. It seems our great grandmother not only made her own entertainment she also made her own preserves, cold remedies, glue and furniture polish too.
My most vivid memory of our great grandmother is of her sitting in her high-backed chair in the corner of her very Victorian parlour in her ground floor flat in Dulwich. In the window her budgerigar, Joey, suspiciously eyed the new-fangled outside world through a chink in her heavy velvet drapes. Despite the constant flow of family and friends time seemed to stand still in that room, a comforting constant for us children. As a child it was like walking into a living story-book; from the biscuit tin of battered lead soldiers that generations of children before us had also played with to the ready-made castle in the folds of the chenille covered dining table.
On Boxing Day two of her grandsons would lift our great grandmother, chair-and-all, up the stairs to her daughter’s flat above where the whole family would congregate, playing records on my great-aunt’s Dansette and shouting over each other’s news, stories and jokes. By this stage our great grandmother was very elderly and was a lady of few words. On one such Boxing Day she beckoned me to her and whispered into my ear, tapping on the mahogany arm of her high-backed chair with a perfectly manicured nail; ‘a drop of vinegar will bring this up lovely later’.
That was years ago and the very Victorian parlour, the high-backed chair and Joey are now all sadly long gone. However, all these years later no-one in our family would dream of cleaning our windows with anything other than newspaper and we all share the belief that a drop of vinegar and a damp cloth can get you out of almost any domestic disaster.
We have included a few of Mrs White’s Recommendations here, and added a few of our own. If you have some of your own, please do share them with us.